Thursday, June 19, 2008

How municipalities can adapt to climate change

A piece by Environmental Law Specialist Dianne Saxe in Environmental Communications Options (Canada): Climate change poses expensive threats to municipalities, both because it changes average weather and because it increases the frequency of "severe weather events".

…Someone - municipal governments, residents or insurers - will have to pay for the inevitable damage. And it could be huge. In Toronto, for example, a mere three hour rainstorm on August 19, 2005 racked up $500 million in insurance claims. The Insurance Bureau of Canada cites this as the country's most expensive natural disaster (in terms of insurance claims) after the 1998 ice storm.

… The best way for a municipality to adapt to climate change is to evaluate its unique vulnerabilities and take appropriate action. Unfortunately, senior governments have not been as helpful as they could in this regard. IPCC maps take no account of specific local circumstances, and environment Canada is about 15 years behind in analyzing temperature and rainfall and wind data.

The City of Toronto has introduced one useful new resource - an on-line library dealing specifically with climate change adaptation - as part of its "Ahead Of The Storm" initiative. Other help is coming from the insurance industry in the form of an Industrial Research Chair on Extreme Weather Events at McGill University, and a study on municipal disaster prevention.

Fortunately, the federal government's report concludes with a dry, but significant, call to action: "Integrating climate change into existing planning processes, often using risk management methods, is an effective approach to adaptation. Barriers to adaptation action need to be addressed, including limitations in awareness and availability of information and decision-support tools." Stirring rhetoric, it isn't. But when even the federal government admits we have a problem, then we have a problem.

The Arch Bridge over the Bay of the Humber River where it enters Lake Ontario. Photographed by Sandra McKeown, who has generously released it into the public domain via Wikimedia Commons. Thank you, Sandra

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